For the lack of a better word, social policy can be tricky – not only to create and implement, but also to discuss. Even the main purpose of social policy is unclear. There seem to be three main schools of thought. According to one, it is meant to protect human dignity and help disadvantaged groups rise, a goal which could be summarized as ‘social security’. Another common view is that it is primarily meant to ensure a durable and well-functioning economy in the face of changing demographic trends. The third – and perhaps the most cynical view – is that, just like all policies, it is a tool used to win elections and stay in power.
These policy goals are not mutually exclusive, of course, as all three are desirable for the decisionmaker. However, focusing on just one of these three goals is likely to negatively affect developments towards the other two. Upon the close examination of different social policies of Central Eastern Europe (CEE), as we did in this issue of the 4liberty.eu Review, it appears that, often, social policymaking is motivated mainly by the third goal (the preservation of power). As Maciej Chmielewski writes in his article, instead of adapting policies to the changing reality, governments try to reshape reality based on their political motivations, which leads to a wide array of problems.
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Firstly, it may lead to the century-old dilemma of short-term benefit versus long-term development. The effects and impact of social policy take many years (even decades!) to show, while the political cycle lasts only a couple years. Similar to education reforms, social reforms are, therefore, intimidating to politicians, considering that by the time the results become visible, they may no longer be in office. Unfortunately for them, as another author in the issue, Máté Hajba, indicates, it seems that regardless of whether politicians want to or not, radically changing the welfare system might become a necessity sooner than later.
Speaking of politically motivated policy decisions, it is important to note that citizens of the CEE region generally want extensive social benefits – in no small part due to the post-soviet tradition of strong state presence. This desire incentivizes governments to implement more and more benefits in order to stay in power – especially when elections are coming up.
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